'Prepare to be immersed in the heat and vibrancy of Florida's natural world, full of such sensual detail that to read it is to breathe it in.' -Jo Shapcott [review of Greyhound Night Service]

Out on the road

I've just come back from what I would truly call a pilgrimage. There have been other points in my life where I set out on what I thought was a pilgrimage, but until this past week, I don't think I really felt what that word means.

A friend and I decided, last minute, to drive down to Chartres. Chartres, France is a place I have been wanting to visit since 1997 when I first heard about the more than 800-year-old labyrinth there in the stone floor of the cathedral. Being somewhat of a labyrinth fanatic, and having walked replicas of Chartres labyrinth many times, the anticipation of this trip was a joy. Although not as straightforward or as quick as we hoped, getting there was only the beginning. When we arrived on the first day I wanted to do nothing other than to sit 'at' the labyrinth. It was, on that day, covered by chairs. I sat at the centre for hours, listening to the echo of voices in the cathedral, smelling the thousands of candles burning.

Our second day there was a Friday and we knew in advance it would be possible to walk the labyrinth. We arrived early in the morning and found a few people already walking, holding candles as they went in. From morning until late evening I sat and watched, walked, re-lit the candles we placed in the centre when someone knocked them over or trampled through un-looking or un-thinking. The sacredness of the space grew the longer I was present, the more the day went on and I watched the quality of light through the rose windows change, heard Mass in French several times, listened to Vespers, chatted to other pilgrims: some there for their devotion to Mary, others for devotion to the labyrinth, but many there for both.

There is little to say to explain the experience of actually being in the cathedral for two full days. By the end I felt utterly empty of myself and filled with the presence of joy, heartfulness, pure spirit energy. As I walked, my head and heart sifted through the past years of my life, the recent days and the further past, then I let them go. I too carried fire in with me as well as hopes and fears. And like so many others, I left them in the centre of the labyrinth. In the perfect rose heart of smooth stone. It was a journey I know I've made before. It is one I know I will make again. One that I will always treasure in a deep place, in the centre of my life, where I will hold this experience from now on.